I’ve been writing books full-time since 1983. When people ask me what kind of books I write, I tell them that I’ve written Star Trek novels, Star Wars novels, the original V novelization, and the novelization for Alien: Resurrection, the 4th Alien film (btw, that one was written in collaboration with Kathleen O’Malley, one of my favorite co-authors).
After saying that, I always add, “But I don’t just write tie-in books for franchises…half my books are set in my own original universes.” This statement is ignored about 60% of the time.
That 60% of people I meet say something along the lines of the following: “Oh, you’re a Trekkie!” followed by a guffaw, or even a snicker, then the comment, “I suppose you put on your Mr. Spock ears and wear a costume, huh?”
Over the years the sting has pretty much worn off this often well-meaning but depreciatory comment. For the first few years I used to bristle, but now I just smile and shrug and say, “No, I’m afraid I don’t dress in costume. I dress like a boring old author.”
Only…I can’t say that any more. I have now acquired a COSTUME, and I’m going to wear it for the first time Friday and Saturday. God help me! I just hope I can muster the courage to actually appear in it. I spent too much on the thing to chicken out.
It happened like this: A couple of years ago at Dragoncon, when I was first working on Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom, on impulse I marched into a weapons dealer’s booth, put on a baldric, drew a cutlass, and waved it around. Something strange happened. I felt five inches taller, twenty years younger, and thirty pounds lighter. It felt GREAT! I wanted to stride around, buckling my swash and saying “Arrrrrr” to everyone. The feel of that cutlass in my hand went to my head like potent rum.
I didn’t buy the cutlass. I had a feeling I’d have trouble explaining it to TSA, and it wouldn’t have fit in my bag, what with the weight limits these days. But I did go wandering off to look at all the costume shops, and the next thing I knew, while my friends Sonia James and Eugie Foster cheered me, on, I found myself being laced into a black leather corset. (No wonder those women fainted all the time. Elizabeth Swann’s fainting fit was one of the more historically accurate bits about Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.)
I bought the corset anyhow, because it did look really kewl. I haven’t had that small a waistline since before I had my son, Jason. And then I found myself in another booth, and I bought a pirate shirt, because the corset was the kind that comes up under the boobs, but doesn’t cover them. So I needed something to wear so I wouldn’t get arrested.
The next year at Dragoncon, I went over to the dealer’s room and emerged with a big, black cavalier hat. By that time, I’d found and ordered (from a weapons museum in Louisville, Kentucky) a cutlass. The first cutlass they sent me had a defective knuckle-guard, so they sent a second, no extra charge. This came in very handy when I wrote the definitive sword battle (by moonlight, yet!) in The Price of Freedom.
To hear what swords would sound like first-hand, I went out to my living room (my office is too small) and whanged the blades together, sliding and slithering them along each other like some kind of demented ginsu chef. Then I turned out all the lights and did it again. Got a couple sentences from that little exercise I’m quite proud of : “The blades rang against each other, a song of metal. Jack could see and smell sparks as they struck, steel sliding against steel.”
I bought a baldric at a War of 1812 re-enactment. (A baldric is the leather sling you wear over one shoulder that holds your sword on your opposite hip.)
After that, I was too busy writing for the next six or eight months to add to the costume. I had a hazy idea that maybe I’d wear it at Dragoncon to sign books, if I got my courage up.
Then I got very busy finishing up The Price of Freedom, and the potential costume languished for a year or so. But recently, I was invited to attend the Fells Point Swashbucker Soiree on April 15, and Privateer Day on April 16. The organizers wanted me to judge the pirate costume contest, and to host a Pirates of the Caribbean trivia contest. It all sounded like fun, and a great chance for book promotion, so of course I said yes. And then came the fateful words when I was confirming with the organizers several weeks later: “But of course we’ll expect you to be in costume yourself.”
Argggh! (Or should I say Arrrr?)
What to do, what to do? I confided my problem to my friend Howie Weinstein at Farpoint convention. He’s been dressing up in a hall costume as his hero “Maverick” (from the television series) so he came up with some links for me. I began checking them. I needed pants, a coat, and boots.
I found the pants, ordered them, then had to re-order because the first ones were too big. (Better than too small, right, ladies?) For the coat, I finally located a blue “Captain’s coat” — a frock coat that seemed lightweight enough to wear in the summer. None of this garb is necessarily accurate for the period, and I didn’t really care about historical authenticity. After all, this is Pirates of the Caribbean, right? (Though my novel is nautically and historically accurate, where it didn’t run counter to established POTC film canon…)
Now I needed boots. And there I hit a major snag. They don’t make pirate boots in W width. I looked, and looked, but I couldn’t find any. And the ones that seemed like candidates were hundreds of dollars. Finally I saw an ad on Amazon.com for “bootcuffs” in velvet you could put over regular boots. I have some very nice black leather winter boots, plain, not too high in the heel. But the velvet just looked, IMHO, tacky, judging by the picture. So I took my boots down to Elam, the Mennonite harness maker down in Loveville, Maryland. (Yes, there is a Loveville, MD, and every year around the 7th of February they get deluged with Valentine cards to be mailed out with the “Loveville” postmark.)
“Elam,” I said, “you’ve never had an assignment like this before. I want you to make some leather cuffs I can slide into my boots to make them look like pirate boots.” Elam blinked his mild blue eyes at me, obviously bemused, but he’s a nice guy, and he’s worked on my tack repairs before, so he knows me.
“I have some leather to match this,” he said, fingering the boot leather. “Give me a week.” He looked down at the picture of Johnny Depp as Capt. Jack, and said, without a flicker of recognition, “Can I keep this picture of this fellow in his boots as a guideline?”
“Sure,” I said. “That’s why I brought it.”
Accordingly, Michael and I drove down to Loveville on April 11, the specified date (obviously you can’t call on the telephone to check status, but Elam’s never missed a deadline yet!) and there were my boots, with beautiful black leather cuffs I could slide on over them and leather tabs so I could tuck them in.
“Interesting assignment,” Elam commented, as I wrote the check. “I like pirate stories. I read Treasure Island.”
So if anyone is attending the Fells Point Swashbuckler Soiree and Privateer Day, on Friday night and Saturday (11:00 – 6:00), I’ll be there, with a box of freshly printed limited-edition Price of Freedom bookplates. (They came out really great…it’s the back cover, showing the famous skull). I’ll be autographing and handing out the bookplates to attendees, so they can paste them in their books after May 17.
Looking forward to seeing some of you there!
-Ann C. Crispin